Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Christmas List

For many years now my wife and I have prepared lists each year indicating things we might like to have for Christmas. This was something that she introduced to me when we got married. What is on the list is not what always ends up under the tree, per se. It is, however, a starting point for our Christmas present shopping for each other and for others.

I didn't initially know if I liked the idea of having to buy presents according to a list. My thought was that I should be able to pick something out for someone, if I really knew them. After some time went by, I realized that, while this is mostly true, a Christmas list is a good place to learn about a person's likes and thoughts. People don't put items on their lists that that don't really want. I have been surprised with what I have seen from time to time. It has changed my mind on the writing of lists for sure.

Sometimes people's interests change and you don't realize it. You may have known each other for years, or even live under the same roof. They may have liked something for years and you give them more of the same. They appreciate the gift because you gave it with love, but they also don't feel like they are known for who they are now, just for who they used to be. We are all busy. Sometimes the ones we love most change a little on us in likes and interests and we don't notice. The Christmas list is a good way to express some of those changes.

I know my own lists have changed over the years. When I was younger I wanted movies or electronic gadgets. If it had an on switch, i wanted to have it. Now, years later, I have a drawer full of movies I haven't watched in ages, and a bunch of outdated gadgets. These days I am much more interested in thoughtful gifts and gifts that help me live the life that I have chosen. What do I mean? I am a family man. I cook. I am a professional. New pictures of my wife and son, or things that remind me of them are awesome gifts. Things I can cook or cook with are great ideas. Dress clothes to wear to work...are kind of boring, but are very useful and appreciated. A movie or a gadget? I will still enjoy it, but it is more who I was compared to who I am now.

The bottom line is this: we give gifts to the ones we love, because we love them and want to do good things for them. I want to know my wife and son well enough to give them things they love, but I know that I don't always pick up on the clues. Asking them to tell me what they like and who they are is a good thing. It lets them know that I love them and want to know them. And, it keeps me from giving them something that doesn't fit who they are now. I don't always buy according to what is written on the list, but I do pay special attention to what is written on it. Sometimes I can come up with things that they didn't expect and enjoy more than what they wrote down.

Friday, December 2, 2011

I want to be like good ol Fezziwig!

One Christmas story that I love is about an old man who has lost his way. At one time in his life he knew about what was valuable and why. Over time, he lost this and the important things in life took a back seat to one master passion, gain. In the end, he is shown the folly of his ways and he becomes reformed character. You know his name as well as I do: Ebenezer Scrooge.

One of the themes that I love most in the story is that you can be good in business and still be good to people. We see this contrasted in the characters of Scrooge and his former employer, Mr. Fezziwig.

At one point early in the story Scrooge threatens to relieve Mr. Cratchit, his employee, of his situation (fire him) if Cratchit takes any more coal to put in his fire. Remember, this story is set in December in London in the middle of the 1800s. With no fire to keep him warm, Mr Cratchit was working in a state of intense misery. With no more coal to put on his fire, he had only the light of a single candle to keep him warm. This is a vivid picture of the lack of concern that Scrooge felt for his employee. Making money was his sole focus.

As a young man Scrooge had it much better than Cratchit. Scrooge's first employer was Mr. Fezziwig. We discover about Mr Fezziwig that he was a jolly man and a good man of business. He ran a profitable business and expected those who worked for him to work hard, but he was also kind to those who worked for him. He was everything that the older Scrooge was not. We see this in a conversation between the Ghost of Christmas Past and Scrooge:

   'A small matter,' said the Ghost, 'to make these silly folks so full of gratitude.'

   'Small!' echoed Scrooge.

   The Spirit signed to him to listen to the two apprentices, who were pouring out their hearts in praise of Fezziwig: and when he had done so, said,

   'Why! Is it not? He has spent but a few pounds of your mortal money: three or four perhaps. Is that so much that he deserves this praise?'

   'It isn't that,' said Scrooge, heated by the remark, and speaking unconsciously like his former, not his latter, self. 'It isn't that, Spirit. He has the power to render us happy or unhappy; to make our service light or burdensome; a pleasure or a toil. Say that his power lies in words and looks; in things so slight and insignificant that it is impossible to add and count them up: what then? The happiness he gives, is quite as great as if it cost a fortune.'

Fezziwig was not only good at business. He was good to people. That made him truly successful. The beauty of the story is that Scrooge becomes like his old employer, and even better:

   Scrooge was better than his word. He did it all, and infinitely more; and to Tiny Tim, who did not die, he was a second father. He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world. Some people laughed to see the alteration in him, but he let them laugh, and little heeded them; for he was wise enough to know that nothing ever happened on this globe, for good, at which some people did not have their fill of laughter in the outset; and knowing that such as these would be blind anyway, he thought it quite as well that they should wrinkle up their eyes in grins, as have the malady in less attractive forms. His own heart laughed: and that was quite enough for him......it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.

What does this mean for the world today? Working hard and earning a profit from it is an honorable undertaking, when done honestly. Providing for ourselves, our families, and others would not be possible without it. We must remember to apply the lessons that Scrooge learned. We should be good to those that we work with and those who work for us. We should show kindness to those in need, for one day we may be in need of kindness. What better time than Christmas to start practicing it?

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